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Western Center Roundup – January 2022

Welcome to Western Center’s first newsletter of 2022! The new year also brings a fresh look for our monthly newsletter. Welcome to the roundup!


From North to South, Two Suits Settled 

Two lawsuits settled since our last newsletter: Warren v. City of Chico and Banda v. County of San Bernardino. 
Legal Services of Northern California and Western Center brought the case in Warren v. City of Chico last year to challenge ordinances criminalizing homelessness in Chico. Now under the settlement, the city must build individual pallet shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and is prohibited from issuing citations and arrests for people who live outside when shelter is unavailable. Read more about the case and settlement here.

In December, Western Center, Inland Counties Legal Services, and Public Interest Law Project settled our case against the County of San Bernardino, resulting in several changes to the county’s General Relief program to help more people in extreme poverty access vital financial assistance. General Relief is the program administered by California counties that provides cash assistance to adults who don’t have enough resources or income to meet their basic needs. Our case prompted the county to make substantial changes to its General Relief process, making General Relief easier to access and maintain moving forward. The biggest change is the dollar increase in assistance. Read more about the case and settlement here.


Let the Budget Process Begin

Governor Newsom released his 2022-23 California budget proposal in mid-January – revealing yet another dramatic surplus for the State of California due to rapidly increasing wealth among the state’s top earners. Western Center’s analysis of the governor’s budget proposal outlines its potential impact on Californians — from the positive, like the proposal to expand Medi-Cal eligibility to those currently excluded due to immigration status, to challenges, like the need for more state-funded rental assistance than was included in the governor’s proposal. Read our analysis here.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the proposal shows reluctance to invest in the state’s ongoing needs. Leading up to the budget’s May Revision, Western Center will advocate for the legislature to review the governor’s proposal with more of an eye toward meeting the short- and long-term needs of all Californians. To learn more about Western Center’s 2022-23 budget priorities and advocacy, you can view the recording of this month’s Meet the Advocate conversation with our Director of Policy Advocacy, Mike Herald.


February Reads    

If you’re looking for an informative read or three heading into February, our blog has you covered!

  • Western Center’s Executive Director Crystal D. Crawford and Manal J. Aboelata, Deputy Executive Director at Prevention Institute and author of a new book, Healing Neighborhoods, reflect on the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and what it could mean for ensuring all Americans the right to live in a healthy neighborhood. Read here.
  • Abraham Zavala, Western Center’s Outreach and Advocacy Associate, wrote an eye-opening post about the struggles facing long-term tenants at City Center Motel in Long Beach, and how the untimely death of one tenant spurred others to mobilize and organize. Read here.
  • Western Center’s senior policy advocate Jen Flory and senior attorney Helen Tran co-wrote a post outlining new patient protections for hospital billing available this year. Read here.

Analysis of Governor Newsom’s 2022-2023 California Budget Proposal

Governor Newsom released his January proposal for the 2022-23 California state budget. In total, the administration projects a $45 billion surplus — a combination of higher revenue collections for the past two budgets and higher than anticipated revenue for the 2022-23 budget. As the governor noted in his press conference, if current economic trends continue, the surplus could grow even more by the time the proposed budget is revised in May. The budget includes a record $36 billion reserve.

SUMMARY

The governor’s proposed budget includes a historic investment in health care by expanding Medi-Cal eligibility for those currently excluded from the program due to immigration status, and by eliminating Medi-Cal premiums for children, pregnant people, and people with disabilities. It does not eliminate the burdensome “share of cost” that many people on Medi-Cal still pay as a monthly deductible.

The budget also includes expanded funding to house people experiencing homelessness, a large investment in health care related workforce development, and an expansion of proposals intended to reduce poverty such as increasing CalWORKs grants, passing on all child support to families formerly on public assistance, and expanding the state child tax credit to households with no reported income. The budget also proposes to fund 36,000 new childcare slots for working families, but this means approximately 150,000 families will remain on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, this proposal misses an opportunity to build on significant progress made through existing poverty-reduction initiatives. Despite the expiration of the very effective federal child tax credit increase, the governor’s proposed budget does not backfill that lost income for California families. It also fails to fund more stimulus payments for Californians with low incomes. Additionally, it does not provide a cost-of-living increase for the SSI/SSP grant as required by state law, and it does not accelerate the SSI/SSP grant restoration scheduled for January 2024.

The need for rental and utility assistance in California has greatly outpaced federal funds allocated to the state. While California was recently allocated an additional $62 million in federal funds to address the growing need, the state needs about $2 billion. The governor missed an opportunity to supplement the federal dollars with surplus from the General Fund. However, California will continue to advocate for additional funding from the federal government.

Despite the large surplus and number of proposed initiatives, the governor’s proposal uses just $20 billion for the needs of Californians. More than half of the surplus is being used to fund reserves and to pay off long term debt. Of the $20 billion being spent, the governor proposes to use 86 percent for one-time expenditures. The reluctance to invest in ongoing needs means proposals that could make a major impact, like funding a broadly available rental assistance program, are not part of the discussion. The legislature should review the governor’s budget with an eye toward meeting more of the short- and long-term needs of all Californians.

HEALTH CARE

The governor’s proposal expands Medi-Cal to all adults regardless of immigration status. This would make California the first state in the nation to cover all adults, and together with the recent increase in the income level for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the scheduled elimination of the Medi-Cal assets test by January 1, 2024, all adults under 138 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for free, full-scope Medi-Cal. The governor’s proposal also eliminates premiums for children, pregnant people, and the Working Disabled Program, and expands Medi-Cal coverage of custom crowns for back teeth. In addition, there are affordability, provider payment, and workforce investments.

Medi-Cal

  • Health4All: The governor’s proposal expands full-scope Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 700,000+ undocumented adults ages 26 through 49, effective no sooner than January 1, 2024, with estimated costs of $819 million total funds ($614 million General Fund) in FY 2023-24 and $2.3 billion total funds ($1.8 billion General Fund) at full implementation.
  • Zero out premiums: The proposed budget includes $53 million total funds ($19 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $89 million total funds ($31 million General Fund) ongoing and trailer bill language to reduce premiums to zero for Medi-Cal and other Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs. This includes Medi-Cal premiums for children above 160 percent of the poverty level, the 250 percent Working Disabled Program premiums, as well as the premiums for pregnant women and infants under the Medi-Cal Access Program (MCAP) and County Children’s Health Insurance Programs (C-CHIP).
  • Justice-related initiatives: The proposal includes $50 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 to implement the CalAIM justice-related initiatives with implementation beginning January 2023. This includes pre-release applications, pre-release “in-reach” services, and coordinated re-entry. There will also be trailer bill language to extend the duration of suspension of Medi-Cal benefits when an individual is incarcerated to increase the likelihood that coverage is maintained.
  • Dental Lab Processed Crown (AKA Custom Crown) Coverage: The budget includes $37 million total funds ($13 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and trailer bill language to update adult coverage requirements to include lab processed crowns for posterior teeth, in place of stainless-steel crowns. Also related to dental, the administration proposes to extend dental managed care contracts and procure new contracts no sooner than January 1, 2024.
  • The governor’s proposal includes the following provider payment investments:
    • Proposition 56 Supplemental Provider Payment Backfill: To address declining tobacco revenue, the proposal includes an increase of $29 million from the General Fund to fully fund remaining Proposition 56 payments at their current level in FY 2022-23.
    • Equity and Practice Transformation Payments: To close health equity gaps in preventive, maternity, and behavioral health care measures and address gaps in care arising out of the pandemic, the proposal includes $400 million total funds ($200 million General Fund) in one-time funds, aligning with the goals of the Medi-Cal Comprehensive Quality and Equity Strategy.
    • Elimination of Certain AB 97 Provider Payment Reductions: The budget includes $20 million total funds ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2022-23 and $24 million total funds ($11 million General Fund) ongoing to eliminate AB 97 payment reductions for nurses, alternative birthing centers, audiologists/hearing aid dispensers, respiratory care providers, durable medical equipment, oxygen and respiratory services, chronic dialysis clinics, non-emergency medical transportation, and emergency air medical transportation.
  • Discontinue Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) and Expand Children’s Presumptive Eligibility (PE): The Department is proposing to sunset CHDP by July 1, 2023 via trailer bill language and replace with the Children’s Presumptive Eligibility Program, which will include all Medi-Cal providers.
  • Mobile Crisis Services: The proposal includes $108 million total funds ($16 million General Fund) and trailer bill language to add qualifying 24/7 community-based mobile crisis intervention services as a Medi-Cal benefit as soon as January 1, 2023. The benefit will be implemented through county behavioral health delivery systems by multidisciplinary mobile crisis teams in the community.

Other Health Proposals 

  • Office of Health Care Affordability: The proposal reappropriates funding for the Office that was originally included in the 2021 Budget Act (originally $11.2 million in 2020-21 and $24.5 million in 2022-23) and proposes statutory changes for its establishment. The Office is charged with increasing cost and quality transparency, developing cost targets for the health care industry, enforcing compliance, and filing gaps in market oversight.
  • Covered California: The proposal continues to deposit into a reserve fund to be used for future Covered California affordability programs the $333.4 million General Fund that would have been used for Covered California state premium subsidies (not currently needed due to American Rescue Plan Funds).  The administration intends to work with the Legislature to determine the best use of these funds based on the recent AB 133 affordability report produced by Covered California, after determining what ongoing federal support will be available. In addition, the proposal continues to include $20 million General Fund in 2022-23 to support the One-Dollar Premium Subsidy program, which zeros the cost of Covered California consumers for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • Behavioral Health Bridge Housing: The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion General Fund ($1 billion in FY 2022-23 and $500 million in FY 2023-24) for behavioral health bridge housing to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness with serious behavioral health conditions by purchasing and installing tiny homes and providing time-limited operational supports in various bridge housing settings.
  • Workforce Development: The proposal includes $1.7 billion in Care Economy Workforce investments, including $350 million General Fund to recruit and train 25,000 new community health workers as well as additional health care providers.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

In total, the governor’s 2022-2023 budget dedicates $9 billion for housing and $8 billion for homelessness. Largely building on last year’s efforts, this budget proposal attempts to chip away at the housing and homelessness crisis by streamlining production, increasing housing accountability, and funding homelessness solutions through a climate focused lens.

This “Housing as a Climate Strategy’’ focuses on preservation and production of affordable housing near schools, jobs, transit, density, and community hubs to fight climate change. Despite the well-placed investments in climate resilient housing, the budget falls short in supporting struggling Californians from eviction with the notable lack of state funding for eviction protection. The budget also proposes to battle the state homelessness crisis with an eye toward housing and behavioral health. While on the surface this plan addresses the long-standing need for better mental health for the unhoused community, it plays on the trope that all people experiencing homelessness have mental health conditions, rather than recognizing the very tangible fact that most Californians simply cannot afford the high cost of living, which has steepened since the start of the pandemic.

The governor is also increasing funding for “beautification” and “hazardous material removal” in encampments, which translates to increased sweeps, harassment, and further ostracization of people experiencing homelessness. With another budget surplus, we hope the budget’s May revision will use the additional funding to preserve and increase affordable housing, prevent needless evictions with increased funding for California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide tangle solutions to get people off the streets and into safe, stable, affordable, and permanent housing.

Affordable Housing and Climate 

  • $300 million one-time General Fund for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program to support land-use, housing, transportation, and land preservation projects for infill and compact development that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund to expand affordable housing development and adaptive reuse opportunities on state excess land sites.
  • $100 million one-time General Fund for adaptive reuse incentive grants to remove cost impediments to adaptive reuse (e.g., structural improvements, plumbing/electrical design, exiting) and help accelerate residential conversions, with a priority on projects located in downtown-oriented areas.
  • $500 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
    • $4.6 million in farmworker Housing Assistance Tax Credits.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) to provide loans to developers for mixed-income rental housing, specifically for households with incomes between 30 percent and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
  • $200 million one-time General Fund for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program to further preserve targeted units in downtown-oriented areas and continue increasing the state’s affordable housing stock.

Mobile Home Rehab

  • $100 million one-time General Fund for HCD’s Mobile Home Park Rehabilitation and Resident Ownership Program. These funds will finance the preservation and development of affordable mobile home parks.

Infill Housing

  • Infill Infrastructure Grant Program—$500 million one-time General Fund ($225 million in 2022-23, and $275 million in 2023-24).

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

  • California requested an additional $1.9 billion in federal funding to address the growing need for rental assistance and utility assistance for Californians. California was allocated an additional $62 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury. While grateful that California was allocated 30 percent of the total federal reallocation, this amount is woefully short of the need.  Currently, California needs almost $2 billion more than what we were originally allocated, and the need is growing. California will continue to advocate with the federal government to obtain additional rental and utility assistance.

Formerly Incarcerated Housing

  • $10.6 million one-time General Fund over three years to the Returning Home Well program that will provide transitional housing to parolees at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness.

Legal Services for Renters

  • $40 million investment in legal assistance for renters and homeowners.

Homelessness

  • $2 billion one-time General Fund, multi-year grant to cities, large counties and Continuums of Care working with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal-ICH). Cal-ICH will work with grantees on their homelessness accountability plans.
  • $500 million one-time general fund dollars in housing encampment resolution efforts that will expand program jurisdictions investment in short- and long-term rehousing strategies for people experiencing homelessness.
  • $25 million in Clean California and $20.6 million for hazardous material removal at encampments.
  • $1 million investment in homeless youth programs.
  • $1.5 billion in General Funds over two years dedicated to resources to address the immediate housing and treatment needs of people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health conditions. This funding will be administered through DHCS’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure program to purchase tiny homes and facilitate bridge/transitional housing. Such funding can also be used for bridge housing including an expansion of Project Homekey Acquisition.
  • $5 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

PUBLIC BENEFITS & ACCESS TO JUSTICE

CalWORKs Grants

The governor is proposing a 7.1 percent grant increase to CalWORKs grants starting October 1, 2022. The funding for the increase comes from Child Poverty Subaccount, a stream of revenue dedicated to CalWORKs grant increases. As a result of the 7.1 percent increase, maximum CalWORKs grants will equal 54 percent of the federal poverty level. For families not subject to sanctions, timed off aid or with an ineligible adult, the grant levels exceed the deep poverty level, which means a reduction in the well-documented, long-term negative impacts of deep poverty on children. Despite the increase in the grant level, the administration’s budget does not fulfill the commitment to increase CalWORKs grants so that no child is living in deep poverty. The so-called AU+1 approach requires significantly more investment than this budget provides. Below is a chart which shows current grant amounts, grant amounts with the 7.1 percent increase, the percent of the federal poverty level, what the grant would need to be to ensure an end to deep poverty, and lastly, the gap between the current grant and an end to deep poverty.

Workforce Development

The administration is proposing two major investments in workforce development. One is a $1.5 billion Proposition 98 General Fund effort to support the development of college and career pathways focused on education, health care, technology, and climate-related fields. Promoting pathways that allow students to move seamlessly from high school to college and career will improve the number of students who pursue and achieve post-secondary education and training.

The governor is also proposing to invest $1.7 billion over three years in care economy workforce development—across both the Labor Agency and California Health and Human Services Agency—that will create more innovative and accessible opportunities to recruit, train, and hire, and will advance an ethnically and culturally inclusive health and human services workforce, with improved diversity and higher wages. These programs will target students such as those in CalWORKs welfare to work.

Safety Net Reserve

The budget provides no increase in the safety net reserve, maintaining a $900 million level. While this amount represents an important safeguard against Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program reductions in lean budget years, the continuing growth in spending in both programs might require additional funds to preserve the effectiveness of the reserve.

Child Support Pass Through

The governor is proposing a major change to child support rules by allowing all child support paid by non-custodial parents to go to families formerly receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal. For decades it has been state policy for the state to retain any child support for the state to pay off the cost of providing welfare and medical benefits. In short, the state has reimbursed itself and made the families live with less income. When fully implemented, these families are estimated to receive an additional $187 million. While the idea of passing through all child support is certainly welcome, it is notable that the administration is proposing to do this only for families no longer receiving government assistance. The governor chose not to allow a 100 percent pass through to families currently on aid. The legislature may wish to consider expanding this proposal to pass through all child support to all families.

SSI/SSP Grants

The administration did not propose an increase in the SSI/SSP grants for 2022-23 budget, citing last year’s agreement to a two-step increase in SSP funding to restore grant cuts made by the state in the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The first of these grant increases went into effect on January 1, 2022, and in conjunction with a federal cost of living increase for the SSI portion of the grant, SSI/SSP grant levels went from $954 a month up to $1,040 a month for a single individual. The second step of grant increases is set to go into effect in January 2024.

In 2018, the legislature and then Governor Brown agreed to provide a state cost of living adjustment on the SSP portion of the grant beginning in January 2023. While that agreement is subject to funding in the budget, the administration chose not to include it in the January budget. As it currently stands, SSI recipients would not see any increased state funding for two years. The legislature may wish to consider whether to accelerate the second SSP increase to 2023 or to provide a cost-of-living adjustment.

Home Visiting

The administration proposes to increase funding for Home Visiting by $50 million ongoing for the Department of Public Health (CDPH) to expand the California Home Visiting Program and the California Black Infant Health Program, serving approximately 6,000 additional families over five years on top of 3,700 currently served by the Home Visiting Program and 1,650 served by the Black Infant Health Program. The administration does not propose increased funding for the CalWORKs Home Visiting program, which was cut in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. The budget proposes greater flexibility for home visiting models offered to meet the diverse needs of families across the state, expands home visiting services to additional counties, and makes them accessible to families with the highest need. Additionally, this proposal will support early literacy by including books and early literacy programming provided by home visitors, and will be further supported by a $350 million General Fund investment to recruit, train, and certify new community health workers.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The administration is proposing to allow families with zero reported income to be eligible for the $1,000 state child tax credit so long as the family would otherwise be eligible. The concept of a zero-earnings tax credit potentially opens the door for allowing people receiving SSI, SSDI, and Social Security to get the same state assistance that families receive from the state EITC and Child Tax Credit.

Civil Assessments

The administration is proposing to reduce the impact of fines and fees on low-income Californians by reducing civil assessments from a maximum of $300 to a cap of $150. Civil assessments are imposed on people in criminal and traffic courts when they fail to appear for a hearing, or they fail to pay a fine in a timely fashion. Legal service advocates tell us that many clients receive multiple civil assessments that increase the amount they owe and make it even harder to pay court ordered fines and fees. While this proposal goes part way in meeting the goals of legislators and advocates, as proposed, civil assessments would still impact Californians with the lowest incomes most, and leaves open the question of whether retroactive civil assessment debts would continue to be subject to collection.

California Food Assistance Program

The administration proposes phasing in the expansion the California Food Assistance Program to all Californians ages 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. This year’s budget proposal includes $35.2 million for initial planning phases of the expansion and allocates $113.4 million annually starting in the 2025-26 budget year for the full expansion.

Golden State Stimulus/Grants

The administration chose not to provide another round of pandemic stimulus payments. These payments, which went out to low- and moderate-income households, were instrumental in allowing families and individuals to absorb some of the costs of the pandemic and to give breathing room in household budgets. The grants were also a method for the state to reduce state expenditures below the Gann Limit, which caps the amount the state budget can increase from year to year. The governor noted in his press conference that the door is not closed on this and it may be under consideration for the May Revise.

For questions, contact:

  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy – mherald[at]wclp.org
  • Food Access: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org
  • Health Care: Jen Flory, Policy Advocate – jflory[at]wclp.org; Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org
  • Housing: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org

LA County extends eviction ban. What’s holding up California’s statewide moratorium?

“But renters in other parts of California are not protected from eviction. And that could lead to a looming eviction crisis, according to Tina Rosales, a policy advocate from Western Center on Law and Poverty. “If the state doesn’t extend the ban for those tenants, then we’re going to have a lot of people who are evicted when there’s billions of dollars in the bank waiting to be released to landlords for the purpose of preventing that exact problem,” she tells KCRW.”

Listen Here

 

OP-ED: Governor: Don’t stigmatize California’s homeless

Western Center policy advocate Tina Rosales’ op-ed was published in Capitol Weekly. The piece explains how rhetoric about “dirty” conditions for unhoused community members, as used by Governor Newsom in his May budget presentation, further alienates people experiencing homelessness, and creates an even more dangerous situation for them.

Read Here

California leaders have two weeks to get the state budget right by investing in poverty elimination rather than band aids.

Over the next two weeks, the Governor and Legislature will determine how to spend the state’s $38 billion dollar surplus (closer to $76 billion if you include constitutionally mandated spending). The Governor has requested nearly 400 new spending proposals, many of them one-time investments to be spent over several years. There are many worthy proposals in the Governor’s budget — most demonstrably, a $12 billion commitment to reduce homelessness.

California is one of the wealthiest places on earth. We have more billionaires than any other state and our per capita income ranks 6th among states at over $71,000 a year. California residents, by far, pay the most in federal income taxes, exceeding New York by roughly $90 billion annually. We have a highly progressive state tax structure that asks those with the most to pay more. This wealth provides the largest budget of any state in the nation. But for all its wealth, California has a dark side.

More than one in six children lives in poverty in California. 450,000 California children are estimated to live in households that earn less than half of the abysmally low federal poverty level. This is often referred to as deep poverty. Research shows that children who live in deep poverty experience a form of toxic stress that slows normal brain development, results in lower educational achievement, higher risk of chronic health conditions, and lower earnings as adults.

For decades, California has provided sub-meager grant levels to people who are disabled (Supplemental Security Income (SSI), families with kids (CalWORKs), and indigent single adults (General Relief). For years, CalWORKs grants were worth less than 40 percent of the federal poverty level, at around $700 a month. That’s a program for kids and families living deep poverty, where the family income is less than 50 percent of the poverty level. Due to ridiculously low CalWORKs grants, these families are housing unstable, and must occasionally use homeless services.

Former Senator Holly Mitchell led the effort to increase CalWORKs grant and succeeded when Governor Brown committed to a three-step increase to prevent children on CalWORKs from living in deep poverty. Though Governor Newsom did provide the second of the promised increases, his current budget doesn’t finish the job. It provides an increase that falls short of eliminating deep poverty among children.

To his credit, Governor Newsom gets it. In addition to following through on the second of the CalWORKs grant increases in his first budget, one of his first acts as governor was a refundable $1,000 child tax credit for families in poverty, paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. Legislators and advocates believed that the dream of ending childhood deep poverty in California would finally happen in the 2020-21 budget, but then COVID hit. Millions of people lost jobs and the state’s revenues plummeted. California could no longer afford to end deep childhood poverty, or so we thought.

As it turns out, the state’s revenues quickly rebounded, since billionaires made so much money during the pandemic. California ended up with the largest surplus in its history.

Even so, Governor Newsom did not include funding to end childhood deep poverty in his 2021 May budget announcement, instead offering a modest, insufficient grant increase for CalWORKs. It is simply unacceptable that one of the richest places on earth will continue to allow children to live in abject poverty.

Similarly, the Governor offered a modest $10 a month increase to SSI recipients who are blind, aged and disabled. Over the past decade, the standard of living for SSI recipients has degraded due to the elimination of state cost of living adjustments and the resistance by successive governors to restore cuts made during the Schwarzenegger and early Brown administrations. California saved over $10 billion with those cuts and kept them in effect even when the state was running substantial surpluses with large reserves.

Against this backdrop, Senate Budget sub-committee #3 considered the Governor’s 2021-22 SSI proposal. The empathetic new chair, Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, noted that the proposal leaves SSI recipients below the poverty level, and that she is helping a friend living on SSI just to make it month to month. Single, indigent adults leaving the criminal legal system have it even worse, with paltry assistance upon release and $221 in General Relief they can use for housing. In fact, 70% of Californians experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration. It’s all a recipe for instability.

Governor Newsom really wants to do something about homelessness, which is good, but it doesn’t matter how much we spend on housing and services if we don’t slow the stream of people losing their housing due to poverty.  California is using austerity tactics on people in poverty, getting the same results over and over again. Now we’re funding a $12 billion emergency program to fix the carnage. If we want to end homelessness, we must give people the money they need to stay stably and safely housed.

State governments are afraid to provide benefits it may have to cut down the road and believe that a way to save money is to deny adequate levels of assistance. What legislators fail to see is that the reluctance to spend money upfront causes enormous downstream costs. Homeless services, child welfare, emergency food, and foster care are not free, but require funding at ever increasing amounts. If we simply invested to keep people housed and healthy from the get-go, rather than forcing them to live in a constant state of toxic stress caused by extreme poverty, we might not have that problem.

In the next couple of weeks leading up to the budget deadline, the Legislature has a chance to end this shameful chapter in our history by using this year’s surplus to reverse toxic trends that reinforce poverty. Grants for SSI and CalWORKs should be substantially raised so no one is homeless, and the same level of benefits should be provided to people coming out of the criminal legal system and those on General Relief.

This is California, the 5th largest economy in the world. We can and must do better.

 

Analysis of Governor Newsom’s May Revision of California’s 2021-2022 Budget

*PDF of this analysis available here.

Over the past year, millions of Californians experienced the most devastating pandemic and economic downturn in nearly a century. The cumulative impact of COVID-19 has caused financial devastation and a prolonged period of wealth and asset stripping from Californians unlike anything in recent memory. With that in mind, we see this budget revision by the Governor as a mixed bag.

While it includes notable investments in homelessness and housing funding and health care, it falls short in meeting the existing needs of Californians with low incomes. Doing so would include providing health care for ALL, restoring decade-old cuts to grants for SSI recipients, insuring CalWORKs families have enough income to allow children to thrive, and helping those who are in debt and threatened with eviction due to the pandemic receive justice. The $76 billion budget surplus is more than adequate to meet those needs, and we call on the Legislature to revise the Governor’s budget proposal to ensure that families with low incomes receive a truly historic investment.

OVERVIEW

Governor Newsom’s 2021-22 May Revision of the California budget includes an unprecedented level of state funding. Despite high unemployment for the past year and increased state costs in responding to the pandemic, the budget has $41 billion more in state revenue than anticipated in the January budget. When combined with federal funds, the total surplus is more than $75 billion. These figures could change (likely higher) since the April tax deadline was pushed back by one month.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, budget funding exceeds the Gann Limit, which caps state budget spending based on a formula that limits budget growth to population increases and inflation. The budget anticipates that state funding will exceed the Gann Limit by $16.2 billion in 2023, and in response expands the Golden State Stimulus tax refunds to families earning less than $75,000 and increases state funding for K-12 education.

The proposed budget includes substantial reserve funds including $15.9 billion in the Proposition 2 Budget Stabilization Account (Rainy Day Fund) for fiscal emergencies, $450 million in the Safety Net Reserve, $4.6 billion in the Public School System Stabilization Account, and $3.4 billion for the state’s operating reserve.

The Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee analysis provides more specifics on the Governor’s budget.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Traffic Fines

The budget includes $300 million in one-time spending for debt forgiveness on uncollectible traffic court debts, which would eliminate 100 percent of debt for applicants with low incomes. However, this funding level is inadequate to meet the actual need, as there is more than $8 billion in uncollected traffic debt outstanding.

We are encouraged by the proposal for traffic fines but urge the Governor and Legislature to go far beyond what the Governor proposed. The state needs to undo the archaic policies that criminalize people in poverty – predominately in Black and brown communities, and eliminate criminal system administrative fines and fees. We are co-sponsoring SB 586 (Bradford) to eliminate the rest of the fines and fees that were not eliminated last year.

Legal Aid for Renters in Landlord-Tenant Disputes

The May Revision includes $20 million federal ARPA funds annually for three years ($60 million total) to provide legal aid services for renters and homeowners to avoid eviction and foreclosure. Specifically, these additional funds will provide free legal services for landlord-tenant issues, including legal assistance for counseling, renter education programs, and preventing evictions. More about this can be found below in the housing section.

HEALTH

The Governor’s May Revision includes major health care expansions, including expanding full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors age 60+ regardless of immigration status (Health4AllElders), adding the services of doulas and community health workers as Medi-Cal benefits, extends Medi-Cal eligibility for postpartum individuals, eliminating Medi-Cal program suspensions, and making $4 billion in behavioral health investments for children and youth under age 25. Unfortunately, the May Revision does not include a repeal of the Medi-Cal asset test, funding to build out housing support service capacity as part of CalAIM, or complete Health4All by adding adults ages 26-59.

Medi-Cal

  • The May Revision proposes to expand full scope Medi-Cal for adults 60 years and over regardless of immigration status, to be implemented no sooner than May 1, 2022. Health4AllElders is expected to cost $68 million ($50 million General Fund), fulfilling and building upon last year’s budget commitment of elders age 65+, and is expected to cover an additional 80,000 people. Trailer bill language (TBL) is forthcoming.
  • The proposal adds doula services as a Medi-Cal benefit to be implemented January 1, 2022 and includes $402,584 ($152,043 General Fund) in FY 2021-22 and approximately $4.4 million ($1.7 million General Fund) annually at full implementation. TBL is forthcoming.
  • The proposal adds Community Health Workers to the class of individuals who can provide Medi-Cal covered services to be implemented January 1, 2022 at a cost of $16.3 million ($6.2 million General Fund) in FY 2021-22 and increasing to $201 million ($76 million General Fund) by 2026-27.
  • The proposal includes one-time $315 million ($31.5 million General Fund) to provide population health management services as part of a CalAIM initiative that would centralize administrative and clinical data from the Department, health plans, and providers to better identify and stratify member risks and allow providers and beneficiaries to see what additional services are available.
  • The May Revision includes one-time $200 million ($100 million General Fund) to build capacity for effective pre-release care for justice-involved populations to enable coordination with justice agencies and Medi-Cal coverage of services 30 days prior to release.
  • The proposal includes an additional one-time budget allocation of $9.3 million to expand a current pilot that provides medically tailored meal intervention services to a broader population, which includes Medi-Cal participants with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and malnutrition, and adds Fresno, Kings, Madera, Santa Cruz, and Tulare counties to the service area.
  • The proposal permanently ends the suspension of Medi-Cal benefits and provider rate funded through Medi-Cal and will have TBL. Specifically, the following will no longer sunset:
    • Optional benefits restored in the 2019 budget, specifically audiology and speech therapy services, incontinence cream and washes, eyeglasses and contacts, and podiatric services.
    • Supplemental provider payments and elimination of the AB 97 rate freeze.
  • The proposal expands accelerated enrollment to adults, ages 19 through 64, to provide immediate and temporary benefits while income verifications are pending at a cost of $14.3 million ($7.2 million General Fund) in FY 2021-22. Also see our earlier announcement of settlement in our Rivera Medi-Cal case.
  • The proposal revises its telehealth policy (TBL forthcoming) to set rates for audio-only telehealth at 65% of the Medi-Cal rate for the service rendered in fee-for-service, and comparable alternative to prospective payment system (PPS) rates for clinics. Only providers who can provide in-person services to each client served by synchronous and audio-only telehealth can claim Medi-Cal reimbursement for the service.
  • Federal funding from American Rescue Plan Act:
    • Medi-Cal eligibility extension from 60 days to 12 months for all postpartum individuals for 5 years.
    • Increased Federal Funding for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS).
    • Increase in payments to disproportionate share hospitals of $1.1 billion ($105 million General Fund) in FY 2021-22.
    • Increased Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Block Grant Funding.
  • The proposal includes $5 million ($2 million General Fund) in FY 2020-21 and $18 million ($9 million General Fund) in FY 2021-22 to provide specialty mental health services to foster youth returning from out of state and other youth with similar level of needs that otherwise would have been placed out of state.
  • The May Revision proposes ending dental managed care and restoring dental fee-for-service in Sacramento and Los Angeles to be implemented January 1, 2022 for a savings of $20 million ($8 million General Fund.) TBL forthcoming.
  • The May Revision includes $4 billion investment in behavioral health services for children and youth, including:
    • Procuring a business services vendor to implement an all-payer behavioral health direct service and supports virtual platform to be integrated with screening, app-based supports, and direct behavioral health services for children and youth age 25 and younger.
    • Building infrastructure, partnerships, and capacity statewide to increase access to ongoing behavioral health prevention and treatment services on or near school campuses.
    • Grants to Support Development and Expand Age-Appropriate and Evidence-Based Behavioral Health Programs for Children and Youth.
    • Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program to provide competitive grants to qualified entities to construct, acquire, and rehabilitate real estate assets to expand the community continuum of behavioral health treatment resources funded at $2.455 billion over three years.
    • $50 million one-time provider training in FY 2022-23.
    • New Dyadic Services Benefit in Medi-Cal that provides integrated physical and behavioral health screening and services to the whole family funded at $200 million total ($100 million General Fund) ongoing.
  • The May Revision includes $12.6 million ($4.4 million General Fund) to reimburse specialty pharmacies for services provided to beneficiaries with complex drug therapies in the fee-for-service delivery system, effective July 1, 2021.
  • The May Revision includes one-time funding of $73 million ($36.5 million General Fund) in each of 2021-22 and 2022-23 to resume annual Medi-Cal redeterminations upon conclusion of the federal public health emergency and continuous coverage requirement.
  • The May Revision includes $300 million one-time federal fund to help public health hospitals cover costs associated with critical care delivery needs provided during and beyond the pandemic.

Other Health Proposals                                                  

  • The proposal includes $20 million ongoing to zero out $1 premium for health plans due to federal policy concerning abortion coverage.
  • The proposal sets aside $333.4 million in a Health Care Affordability Reserve Fund to deposit individual mandate penalty revenue in the event the federal subsidies are not extended, and to allow for future investment in Covered California subsidies for future affordability investments, but returns $732 million to the General Fund in unspent state subsidies.
  • The proposal includes $20 million one-time General Fund for language access services across Health and Human Services programs and builds upon January’s proposal to develop and implement an HHS-wide policy framework to improve language access standards across programs and services.

HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS

The Governor’s May revise increases funding for housing and homelessness programs to a grand total of $9.3 billion and $12.4 billion respectively. Building on Legislative efforts to keep Californian’s housed throughout the pandemic and protect renters from eviction, $5.2 billion have been assigned to bolster California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to pay 100% of retroactive and several months of prospective rent for Californian’s unable to pay their rent due to the pandemic.

Record unemployment and loss in hours and wages has left many Californians struggling to pay rent and utilities including water, power, and gas. In recognition of this hardship, the revise has allocated an additional $2 billion to cover the costs of utility bills. We commend this critical investment and urge the Governor and Legislature to continue to work with community and equity partners to improve the program and ensure the rollout of the funds is as quick as possible. We also implore the Governor and Legislature to critically examine and improve the HCD ERAP application so renters and landlords can receive the full benefits of the rental assistance program. We cannot take our foot off the pedal now.

The revise allocates $12.4 billion to combat the issue of homelessness in California, which has the highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States. The Governor’s proposal focuses on current state programs such as Project HomeKey, which focuses on the acquisition and rehabilitation of facilities for housing, and Project RoomKey which uses empty motels and hotels to provide temporary shelter during the pandemic for people experiencing homelessness.

Additional attention is given to encampment cleanup and safety inspections — we are concerned that the proposed partnership with CalTrans may encourage sweeps, and incorrectly targets trash cleanup as a priority instead of investing in the avoidable humanitarian crises at hand. We should focus our resources on ensuring that all Californians have access to safe, stable, affordable housing and target the root of the problem.

The revise also allocates $20 million a year for three years for legal services for those who are at risk of eviction. This minimal investment fails to recognize the increasing need for legal services, which was already severely underfunded. With eviction protections set to expire on June 30, 2021 and reports of a slow roll out of the rental assistance funding, there will be an eviction tsunami that the courts and legal services providers are simply not prepared or funded for. The revise also does not include any additional funding for the state to comply with the U.S Supreme Court decision, Jameson v. Desta, which is critical to ensuring that litigants have full access to their due process rights. Thus, the $20 million allocated by the Governor does not match the need from community.

Lastly, the revise includes funding for housing production, one of the main contributing factors in California’s housing shortage. Among other proposals, the Governor proposes $1.75 billion in one-time funding to support Housing and Community Development affordable housing projects, 6,300 of which are currently shovel ready.

In summary, the May Revise makes the following investments:

Rent and Housing Relief

  • $5.2 billion in federal rental relief aid for state and local entitlement jurisdictions from the U.S. Treasury.
  • $331 million in national mortgage settlement funds for mortgage assistance for homeowners.
  • $1 billion to the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) for mortgage assistance and principal reductions.

Housing Production

  • $1.75 billion in one-time general funds to support Housing and Community Development affordable housing projects, 6,300 projects that are currently shovel ready.
  • $81 million in one-time funds to expand CalHFA’s Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) program.
  • $45 million to scale up excess land development.
  • $500 million for Housing and Community Development to provide planning and implementation grants to regional entities for infill developments, the goal of which is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and align with the state’s climate goals.
  • $300 million in one-time funds to sustain Housing and Community Development legacy project affordability requirements.

Homelessness

  • $3.5 billion in one-time funds for HomeKey program to acquire and rehabilitate more housing facilities.
    • $1 billion of this funding is dedicated to families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
  • Project RoomKey Transition
    • The budget provides $150 million to help transition individuals from short term Project RoomKey housing into permanent housing. Trailer bill language is anticipated that would provide more information on how these funds are to be used.
  • $40 million one-time general fund available over five years to Homeless Coordinating Financing Council for grants and tech assistance to jurisdictions.
  • $53 million in one-time general funds to “coordinate encampment outreach services” with CalTrans to connect unhoused individuals with services.
  • $475 million in general funds in both 2021- 22 and 2022-23 to expand the existing CalWorks housing support program.
  • $280 million in general funds in both 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 to expand program which will provide housing related supports to eligible families experiencing homelessness in the child welfare system.
  • $100 million in general funds dollars in 2021 and 2021 to support access to health, safety, and housing support for people experiencing or at risk of Adult Protective Services involvement.
  • $20 million one-time funding for deferred maintenance for seasonal farmworker rental housing.
  • $175 in general funds annually through 2023-2024 for people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness under the Housing and Disability Advocacy program.

Student Housing

  • $4 billion in one-time general funds split evenly for fiscal years 2021-20221 and 2022-23 to invest in the low-cost student housing grant program.
  • An increase of $130,000 for the Homeless Youth Project through the California State Library.

Homeownership

  • $100 million to expand CalHFA First Time Homebuyer Assistance Program.

PUBLIC BENEFITS

The pandemic exposed significant gaps in our state’s social safety net that leaves many Californians to fend for themselves as the federal, state, nor local governments were able to find solutions during the global pandemic. However, the pandemic also provided a chance to build from the current safety net. We are encouraged by proposals in the May Revise that advance the goal of building a permanent safety net that captures everyone who calls the golden state home.

Food Security

Efforts by the Governor to tackle hunger are appreciated, however, the state must go far beyond the investment laid out in the May Revise to truly address hunger for all Californians. Many Californians continue to lack access to food, so the Governor and Legislature must make an investment that significantly invests in providing emergency food to all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.

  • In January, Newsom put in $35 million one-time to food banks to provide emergency food assistance, but no additional funding is included in the May Revise.
  • We are advocating for $800 million in emergency food assistance to all Californians, a proposal championed by Assembly member Santiago and prioritized by the Latino Caucus. The Governor must do a lot in in this budget to truly make a make a significant dent on hunger.

Free School Meals

During the pandemic, we’ve seen success in providing every school aged child free grab and go meals throughout California — we applaud the Governor for prioritizing Universal School Meals in the May Revise for all students to access free breakfast and lunch. This is a critical program that tackles hunger for children who live in food insecure homes. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to ensure that all children have access to free breakfast and lunch.

  • Governor’s proposal: $150 million ongoing Proposition 98 General Funds to encourage local educational agencies to participate in one of the federal universal meal provisions. The flexible language is questionable; however, we believe that we may see this as a competitive grant.

Food Distribution

Another result of the pandemic is the disruption of how food arrives to communities. The Governor’s proposal creates additional funding to get older Californians enrolled in the CalFresh program and allocates funding to direct California grown food to reach urban communities.

  • Governor’s proposal:
    • $2 million ($1 million from general fund) ongoing allocated to the Department of Aging for outreach to older adults to enroll in the CalFresh program.
    • $68 million (in addition to the $10 million in the January budget for a total of $78 million) one-time funding to increase access to California grown food in urban communities. The proposal heavily supports small and urban farmers.
    • The ideas and intentions for these proposals are good, but the lack of detail does not promise that food will be redirected to existing food deserts or other communities where produce is not readily available.

CalWORKs

The May Revise provides a 5.3 percent increase for CalWORKs grants, an increase from the January budget proposal of 1.5 percent. This will raise grants for all family sizes above 50 percent of the federal poverty level. However, this increase fails to complete the agreement to raise CalWORKs grants to assistance unit plus one which would ensure that no child receives a CalWORKs grant that is less than half the federal poverty level.

The chart below compares current grant levels, where grants would be if funded under the 2019 agreement, and what the grant would be under the Governor’s May Revise budget. We call on the Legislature to fully fund CalWORKs grants to AU+ 1.


One Time CalWORKs Payments

The budget proposes to use $203 million in federal TANF Emergency Pandemic funds to provide a $640 one-time payment to all CalWORKs households. This payment will be provided in July and will be the second payment CalWORKs families receive in 2022.

CalWORKs Family Re-Unification Funding

The budget proposes $8,776,000 ongoing to provide cash assistance to parents whose children have been removed from the home and placed in out-of-home care and who would not otherwise qualify for CalWORKs.

CalWORKs Overpayments

The budget proposes to reduce the monthly amount collected from CalWORKs grants where a family got a cash assistance overpayment during the pandemic due to delays in re-determining eligibility and grant levels. Currently, such overpayments take ten percent of the monthly grant; under this proposal, the reduction would be five percent of the grant amount. Western Center supports waiving all such overpayment collections.

CalWORKs Housing Support Program

The budget proposes a massive $475 million increase in funding for the CalWORKs Housing Assistance Program (HSP) in each of the next two years. This funding will be on top of the existing $90 million in funding for the program and will include statutory changes that may allow counties to serve households before they receive a three-day notice of eviction.

Golden State Stimulus II

The proposed budget includes $8.1 billion for an additional Golden State Stimulus (GSS) payment, including $600 payments for families earning up to $75,000 who did not already receive a GSS payment. The budget includes an additional $500 payment to families with dependent children making up to $75,000 and an additional $500 to ITIN filers that earn up to $75,000 and have a dependent. This would bring the total investment in the GSS to $11.9 billion when combined with the earlier funding provided in February.

We support the Governor’s providing an additional state stimulus that includes ITIN holders, however, barriers remain for providing pandemic relief to undocumented Californians who lack an ITIN, Californians who do not file taxes because they do not make enough in earnings, and those most in need who are currently enrolled in public benefit programs, including General Assistance recipients.

Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot

The budget proposes to provide $35 million to cities and counties to establish guaranteed basic income pilot programs. Western Center supports this as a solid step toward providing people with low incomes more economic autonomy and dignity.

SSI/SSP

The budget proposes a 6.4 percent increase in the SSP portion of the grant for individual SSI recipients only. This would increase the overall grant amount by approximately $10 a month beginning January 1, 2022. This is the first SSP grant increase since at least 2008 (the 2017 increase was a one-time COLA) but falls far short of the level needed to restore the SSI/SSP grant to the federal poverty level. When combined with the anticipated federal cost of living adjustment, SSI grants for individuals would rise from $954 a month to $998 a month.

Housing Disability Advocacy Program

This program provides grants to counties to assist homeless individuals to apply for SSI and to provide housing while the application is pending. The budget proposes to increase funding by $175 million over each of the next two budgets for HDAP. The budget also proposes to eliminate the requirement that counties collect interim assistance payment reimbursements.

Immigration Programs

The budget proposes $20 million in one-time funding to provide additional support for Unaccompanied Undocumented Minors (UUMS) through the Opportunities for Youth pilot project and UUM legal services.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Naturalization Filing Fees: The budget provides $25 million for immigration services for work on behalf of clients involved in federal DACA status.

 

 

 

Statement on Governor Gavin Newsom’s May Revision of California’s 2021-2022 Budget

Over the past year, millions of Californians experienced the most devastating pandemic and economic downturn in nearly a century. The cumulative impact of COVID-19 has caused financial devastation and a prolonged period of wealth and asset stripping from Californians unlike anything in recent memory.

With that in mind, we see today’s budget proposal by the Governor as a mixed bag. While it includes notable investments in homelessness and housing funding and health care, it falls short in meeting the existing needs of Californians with low incomes. Doing so would include providing health care for ALL, restoring decade-old cuts to grants for SSI recipients, ensuring CalWORKs families have enough income to allow children to thrive, and helping those who are in debt and threatened with eviction due to the pandemic receive justice. The $76 billion budget surplus is more than adequate to meet those needs, and we call on the Legislature to revise the Governor’s budget proposal to ensure that families with low incomes receive a truly historic investment.

Western Center will release its full, detailed analysis of the Governor’s May Budget Revision on Monday, May 17, 2021.